There is a veritable profundity of science fiction – in literature, movies, television, radio, and video games – in which aliens are variations of human, variations of Earth non-human species; or something completely different.
Most of the aliens we are supposed to identify with in these fictions are humanoid (merely have different coloured skin, wrinkles or appendages).
Most of the non-humanoid aliens are presented as variations of Earth creatures (giant insects, intelligent reptiles, little tribal bears with spears etc); these are given human emotions,behaviours and other aspects so that we can identify with them.
Some of these emotions, behaviours and aspects are compassion, joy, and vulnerability in the ‘good’ aliens; and coldness, spite and invulnerability in ‘evil’ aliens.
Quite often, aliens which do not resemble humans or creatures from Earth which humans would recognise, are presented as cold and as being without awareness of why empathy is a good thing. They are presented as being intelligent, but misguided. When they learn empathy and compassion, they are presented as being noble.
Those who hope aliens exist will probably also hope they visit us; that the aliens will look pretty and that they will be advanced, and magnanimous enough to use their knowledge and resources to cure all of our ailments and solve all of our problems.
There are also those who acknowledge aliens might exist but hope they don’t – after all, if they did, it would disprove that the universe was made only for us. Also, if they were technologically advanced enough to visit us then it would probably mean that we are not superior to them.
Major blow to the human ego; that would be temporary though. Any realisation that the universe was not made for us would immediately be replaced by the reinforcement of that notion; the universe was made for us, we will get it all later (the meek shall inherit the earth, etc).
Beyond that, the aliens might be hostile; and might want to eat us, dissect and examine us (not knowing or caring that we feel pain), or take all our resources; or simply wipe us out for the sake of some religious dogma.
Stephen Hawking was put as saying that he thought it would be a bad idea to try to contact aliens, because they would likely be nomadic hostile aliens who would only be after our resources (organic life, ourselves, water; whatever).
I would have to disagree with that. Since we have varying impressions of what life is supposed to be and where it can exist, not to mention that radio and light are crap mediums to contact aliens with over any meaningful distance in real space; the likelihood that we will contact any aliens anytime soon is therefore pretty damned remote to start with.
Even if we did contact them, and they were diasporic peripatetic aliens; there is no guarantee (if they were sophisticated enough to travel via anything other than real space), that they would have retained any dogma or be so lacking in resources that they would feel compelled to seize our world, persecute us or destroy us.
The threat would have to come from a completely emotionless, semi intelligent ‘hegemonizing swarm’ species of some sort then (probably); like the ‘Borg’ perhaps.
We can guess what aliens might look like though; and from there, work out what we think of them by the cut of their cloth and the colour of their jib.
First impressions count after all.
If we know from the spectra of a star that there are certain elements in it, and if we know from the spectra of the light shining through the solar system and hitting the planets floating around there, and if we know what the planets are made of and what atmospheres they have and what their proximity is to their stars and other planets and extra solar bodies etc; then we can tell roughly what form life would likely have to take in order to survive there.
Bear in mind of course, that the limited wavelengths of light we can detect can be distorted many times over before reaching our eyes (whereupon it is refracted, flipped upside down and turned inside out before being interpreted by our brain cells); and there are many other things to consider in order to build a more accurate estimate; but this would be a start.
Up until recently, we have only acknowledged that carbon based life made of mostly water and breathing oxygen can exist, because that is how things are on this rock in this solar system.
However, we have noted that there are some bacteria and even some fish that require extreme temperatures or other extreme conditions to survive.
Given this has come to light, we now have evidence to back up the theory that life does not need water (or as much water), does not need oxygen.
We don’t know what aliens could be made of really; they could even be energy based instead of matter based. Again, science fiction has already thought of this, and wondered what aliens might think of our fleshy bodies.
Life does not need to be familiar to us in order to exist.
It can be alien to us.
With all that in mind, analysing nearby solar systems in some detail can give us quite enough information to be able to begin to speculate as to what form life would have to take to live there; and therefore what they would look like.
What about finding aliens technologically advanced enough to travel between systems though?
Well, you can take it as read that nearby solar systems do not have that level of sophistication. If they did, we would have seen structures outside planets such as space stations, we would have seen space ships along with moons and asteroids and stuff.
We haven’t, or it would have leaked out and been in the news along with the latest political scandal or celebrity faux pas.
Nevertheless – would they want to visit?
They would be impressed by our internet.
You currently have the ability to read news from virtually any source in the world, you can see videos of things happening, you can read tweets about it. You can create stuff, discover stuff, see stuff from different points of view, expose stuff; and share it all over the world before The Man can stop it. There’s a bonus too; if The Man tries to close the stable doors after the horse has bolted, then the Barbra Streisand effect comes into play.
The aliens might be worried, however, that The Man would want to shut the internet down or cut off the one thing that makes it such a wonderful and necessary thing; freedom.
What if all that got blocked off and you were left with spoon fed, selected news again?
What if you laid your soul bare on the internet (put your whole life history on it); and before the internet got shut down all that information was sucked into a database and analysed for control, tracking and policing purposes and then sold off to companies for marketing purposes?
Is that so far fetched?
‘1984 was not meant to be an instruction manual’, as one site puts it. Nevertheless, might limited resources (and increasing population pressure on those resources) drive The Man to make it a reality?
If not ‘1984’, then what about World War Three?
In the book ‘1984’, it was the ‘Atomic Wars’ which led to the likely domination of the world by socialism – and the probable persecution, degradation and starvation of mankind*.
There are numerous works of dystopian fiction which present the world thus; a disaster such as a war to end all wars, followed by authoritarianism or anarchy (in either case, persecution and degradation).
If any aliens were watching us, they would of course be aware that we had thought of all this and would be kind of hoping we would stop heading that way.
They would also know, of course, that whilst there are limited resources (and thus, have and have nots), that this is unlikely to change any time soon.
If any aliens were watching us, then they would probably make a choice similar to the choice ‘the Culture’ made in Ian M Banks’ ‘The State of The Art’; i.e. do they help out, or do they wait and see if humanity gets past its self destructive phase?
That would depend entirely on the aliens of course; what form they are and what they have had to deal with as they matured, and therefore how they would feel about us and our situation.
We can, at this point, only speculate.
*Note: in the book ‘1984’, the protagonist Winston Smith admits that he has no idea if the world is as Big Brother portrays it; or if it is all yet another lie.